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Imagine you are a novelist. You want to create an instantly credible picture of middle-class life at some time in the past couple of decades — a suburb, a village, a pub. Easy: one chap passes another and asks, “Seen Matt today?”

Granted, they would have to be readers of the Daily Telegraph, for that is where Matt Pritchett’s front-page cartoons have appeared for 12 years now. But he has dug himself into the consciousness of millions as few of his angrier, more flamboyant rivals have done. In getting his inky crosshairs on the English Character, he compares to Pont or Giles. His wry, mordant, put-upon couple are to the middle classes what Andy Capp was to the working classes.

Matt is the grandson of the great short story writer V. S. Pritchett and the son of the Telegraph columnist Oliver Pritchett — but his rise owes nothing to nepotism and everything to ruthless Darwinian competition.

At St Martin’s School of Art in London he wanted to be a graphic designer, then an illustrator, then thought about being a film cameraman, until he realised he liked the companionable lunches more than the filming. “I really had no idea what I was going to do until I was about 24,” he says. Working as a pizza waiter in London, he then had “one of those moments.”

“I had been told you got £60 for a joke in Punch and I thought, if I can think of just one joke in a week, then I can pay my rent and eat a bit; and if I can think of two jokes I can live like a king.” For weeks and weeks he sent off his drawings and heard nothing. When at last the New Statesman published one, he was hooked. In those days, the ­Telegraph Peterborough column carried a daily topical cartoon and Matt became one of the huddle of hopefuls who would drop by in the mid-afternoon with three or four drawings.

The first of his cartoons published by Peterborough was accepted when its editor, Peter Birkett, was on a day off. Next morning Birkett returned to the office, furious. He expanded Matt’s drawing to A3 and hung it from the ceiling with the caption, “This is the worst cartoon that has ever appeared in any publication.” Matt dryly notes that Birkett was later inclined to remind him how much he owed to Birkett for giving him his first break.

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